Galapagos pushing to find partner to replace AbbVie by year end

Galapagos ($GLPG) is looking to bounce back quickly from AbbVie's ($ABBV) decision to walk away from their rheumatoid arthritis alliance. The aim is to have a new partnership deal in place by the end of the year, giving Galapagos the support it needs to go head-to-head with ally-turned-rival AbbVie in the scrap for the rheumatoid arthritis market. 

Galapagos CEO Onno van de Stolpe

Mechelen, Belgium-based Galapagos says it entered into discussions with 8 potential partners on a nonconfidential basis ahead of AbbVie's rejection. Now, with AbbVie declining to inlicense filgotinib to work on its own JAK inhibitor, Galapagos has stepped up talks. As of September 30, Galapagos was sharing data under confidentiality agreements with three possible partners, CEO Onno van de Stolpe said on an investor call attended by Twitter user Andy Biotech. The aim is to have a partner in place by year end and take filgotinib into Phase III early in 2016. 

How significant a blow AbbVie's decision is to Galapagos--or whether it even is a blow--is an open question. Galapagos has clearly had no trouble finding companies that are interested in taking a closer look at the data on Phase III-ready filgotinib. If Galapagos goes on to strike a deal with another large pharma with terms that are similar, or even better, than its previous agreement with AbbVie, the blow of the rejection will be softened significantly. Equally, it is possible something in the data, perhaps relating to testicular toxicity findings, spooked AbbVie and will deter other possible allies.

What is certain is that Galapagos has gained a well-positioned and deep-pocketed rival for the JAK inhibitor market. AbbVie now plans to move its JAK1 inhibitor, ABT-494, into Phase III before the end of the year, giving it a slight edge on Galapagos. Eli Lilly ($LLY) is even further ahead and Pfizer ($PFE) already has a JAK inhibitor, Xeljanz, on the market. Yet while Galapagos faces the prospect of being fourth to market, if the safety concerns fade away and efficacy remains strong it could still have a big drug on its hands. AbbVie, which came from behind with Humira, knows this as well as any firm. 

AbbVie is claiming ABT-494 has the potential to be best-in-class, but the lack of publicly available safety data on the molecule makes it hard to tell if this is a legitimate claim or hot air. Galapagos, which is still partnered with AbbVie on a cystic fibrosis program, hit back against its ex-ally's claims by stating that filgotinib has best-in-class efficacy and safety data.

- read Galapagos' release (PDF)
- here's Financieele Dagblad's article
- view @AndyBiotech's tweet
- and FierceBiotech's take